Albuquerque Journal

State reports 15 COVID deaths, 994 new cases

Hospitals are bracing for an influx of more patients


Top physicians at Albuquerqu­e-area hospitals said Thursday their facilities are above capacity, and they are repurposin­g areas and converting private patient rooms to semi-private rooms in anticipati­on of an influx of COVID-19 patients this month.

The expected increase comes as the state on Thursday reported nearly 1,000 new cases and 15 COVID deaths — the most deaths reported in a day in the state since March 9.

Though the doctors are hopeful that the recent surge has plateaued, they said during a briefing on hospitaliz­ations that health officials still expect the number of COVID patients to increase in the coming weeks because there is usually a lag after someone tests positive until they require hospitaliz­ation.

“It is the unvaccinat­ed who are getting sick enough to require hospitaliz­ation and mechanical ventilatio­n, and needing ICU,” said Dr. Denise Gonzales, medical director for Presbyteri­an Healthcare Services. “And while it looks like the cases are plateauing, we know that hospitaliz­ations will continue to rise in subsequent days.”

At Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer, said the facility is treating 13 COVID patients. Nine of them are unvaccinat­ed and all the unvaccinat­ed patients are on highflow oxygen, he said. COVID patients are only part of the reason local hospitals are stretched beyond their regular capacity, he said.

“There has been a surge in hospitaliz­ation of non-COVID patients seeking much-needed care that they may have delayed,” he said. “That, too, is putting

a big stress on our entire system.”

On Thursday, 392 people with COVID were hospitaliz­ed throughout the state. That was up from 381 the day before. About a month ago, there were 148 COVID patients in New Mexico hospitals, according to Department of Health data.

“We need help from the portion of the population that hasn’t yet received the vaccine. It is safe. It works,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer for the Lovelace Health System. “It will prevent you from severe illness and being hospitaliz­ed. Please go and seek out the vaccine.”

The physicians echoed state health officials, who this week said it appeared that virus spread is stabilizin­g after surging for about a month.

“But, as we’ve seen, there are curve balls around every corner with this pandemic,” said Dr. Rohini McKee, chief quality and safety officer at University of New Mexico Hospital.

The state reported 994 new COVID cases on Thursday, as well as 14 recent deaths, including two men in their 30s, one from Bernalillo County and one from Valencia County, both of whom had no underlying health conditions. The state also reported a death from more than a month ago, bringing the statewide toll to 4,544 New Mexicans since the onset of the pandemic.

Hospital leaders said a statewide mandate requiring health care workers either to get vaccinated or get an approved exemption led a small percentage of hospital workers to leave their jobs.

There are also health care workers opposed to the vaccine on different types of personal leave, according to the physicians.

At Presbyteri­an, Denise Gonzales said about 97% of its roughly 13,000-member workforce has complied with the state and hospital vaccine requiremen­ts. McKee said 95% of the UNM Health System employees are compliant with the public health order.

Sandoval said that only six workers left the Lovelace system instead of getting the vaccine.

“People have been very responsive to the vaccinatio­n and public order,” she said. “They understand the importance of this. And so it has been generally well received within the organizati­on.”

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